BOZEMAN — Kane Ioane is entering his second season as Montana State’s defensive coordinator since returning to the program last year following a stint as an analyst at the University of Washington. Under Ioane, MSU ranked No. 2 in the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense (22.1 ppg) and No. 3 in total defense (358.3 ypg).
MSU sports information director Bill Lamberty recently interviewed Ioane about coaching with the challenges of the ongoing coronavirus spread, with spring drills canceled and meetings being conducted via phone and video. Following is a look at their conversation:
Q: How has the process of virtual meetings worked for you?
A: Initially I was a little worried and concerned because I’ve been on conference calls and done some things online and been a part of (web) meetings, done some things like that, but never hosted meetings like that. You have to take advantage of these type of situations and make the best of it, make a negative into a positive, and I think the real positive is that you learn how to utilize the technology, the social media, that is available to us these days to the best.
I hate saying it, but I’m getting to be one of the older coaches (in the program). We all get stuck in our ways in how we’re accustomed to doing things. This forcing us to learn new ways to reach our guys, and that in itself is a benefit to us in the long run. The second thing is that I’m getting a chance to connect with players on a whole different level. It’s not (in person), but it’s computer face-to-face, and that in the long run will be a benefit. The meetings have been interesting, they’ve been fun to put together, and in the long run we’ll be better because of it.
Q: How do you look at video with players in this context?
A: I’ve downloaded all the video that I felt like I needed, so as I’m going through a meeting I can pull that video up and share my screen to my players, and we can go through it (together), I can draw on my screen, and my players can see everything I’m working on, so in that regard we’re not skipping a beat. Technology is awesome. There are days when it frustrates the hell out of you, but it’s amazing what you can do in that regard.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the virtual world during the time spring ball would have occurred?
A: We’ve talked about this as a defensive staff, but I’m not necessarily concerned with the X’s and O’s and schematics over the course of the spring. To me this is a great time for each individual coach position-wise on the defensive side of the ball to really dive into his group and get a feel for his group on an individual basis, and really build those connections, which I think is going to be awesome. This is a time for guys to really hone in on the fundamentals and the small details of our core DNA stuff as far as the defense is concerned. So it’s a really great opportunity to take a step back to a certain extent.
Last year at this time when we started implementing our spring drills and getting into it we were making guys drink from a fire hose to a certain extent. We were trying to get (a lot) in, trying to see some stuff, some of it was new, some of it was kind of old blended with some new, but it was a little bit different feel. Now, because we’ve gone through spring, summer and an entire season together, and we got those extra games in the playoffs to get a little extra time with each other, so I feel really good about where we’re at as far as our overall scheme and X’s and O’s, but now it’s about fine-tuning that, diving into the small details, really honing in on the fundamentals of each position, and connecting with our players on a different level than maybe we have in the past.
Q: Do you envision some scheme tweaks?
A: There’s always ways in which we can better with our X’s and O’s and schematically. I know on both sides of the ball we’re going through a few things. I know offensively they’ve got some changes, but for us, we’ve been so consistent as far as our staff, and I think that’s awesome, and it’s vitally important in terms of consistency with the players, but there’s always ways you can get better. That was part of our off-season, for me it overall, big-picture, schematic wise, what are some things we can implement going off of what we already have, what are some things we can tweak and change in order to get better as far as the big picture.
For each position there are some details within that scheme. Up front, what are some different fronts that we can utilize, or change, or tweak, in order to take advantage of the personnel we’ve got. In the back end it’s a similar deal, coverage-wise what are some things we can tweak that don’t necessarily change who we are schematically and identity-wise, but that make us more efficient, that change things up for what our opponents see on film? Same thing at that second level with the linebackers, what are some things we can utilize to take advantage of our personnel. There’s always ways which we can change. Without diving too much into the actual X’s and O’s, there’s plenty of stuff in the details that we will make that make us more efficient defensively.
Q: How much did the defense evolve last fall from the time the team landed in Lubbock to the time it landed in Fargo?
A: As with everything you learn and grow. After Texas Tech we knew there were some things we had to change and tweak, but we didn’t to take too much from that because of the (level of competition) and the first game of the year, but as we progressed through the year, and this is something I was very proud of our players for, is that I felt we got better every week. A lot of it was the players really starting to grasp the big picture and really start to dive into the small details of each position, and get better and better with the small details of our defensive scheme. That’s a tribute to the players, and to the coaches who kept coaching and coaching and coaching.
We felt like we had to make some (in-season) changes based on personnel — it’s always about personnel — we wanted to get the best 11 out there. And when you have the best 11 out there, what are their strengths and how can we utilize those? I felt like we did that as the year progressed. We were able to make a few changes personnel-wise or overall big-picture scheme-wise that allowed us to take advantage of their strengths and disguise our weaknesses the best we could. This is answering that in a long way, but we were not a completely different team schematically when we went to North Dakota State, but I think we were in terms of the confidence in what we were doing.
Q: What’s the approach in rebuilding a front seven that lost All-America caliber players for the second straight year, and fitting the scheme to this year’s personnel?
A: That’s what it’s all about, figuring out who we have within that room and what are their strengths? Are we going to be more of an odd front team because of the strengths of the players, or do we go to more of an even front? That’s an advantage of being a multiple-front defense, we’re very flexible in that regard. We can change some things up to make sure we’re getting the most out of the players in that room to take advantage of their strengths. We can move some pieces around.
For example, coming out of 2018 Bryce Sterk was a boundary outside linebacker/defensive end, but going into 2019 we moved him to the field end because we felt that was what he did best, and I felt like that benefited not only him but also our whole defense. So these are some things we can do this year, look at our personnel and figuring out where we can slide this guy or what can we do with that guy to make us the best front seven that we possibly can be. And I think we have some good talent there, I really do. I think Chase Benson is one of the top defensive tackles not just in our conference but in the country. Amandre Williams is a guy that started to emerge as the season progressed, specifically down the stretch in those last four or five games, where he was playing really at a high level. I think he can continue to do that, but he has the skill set that we can move him around and put him at different places to again take advantage of personnel.
And we have a mix of younger guys that we’re really excited about and older guys that have played some but more in a role-player situation. Kyle Finch, for example, who’s done some really good things for us as far as knowing his role and doing some good things as far as being reliable, now he’ll play a bigger role going forward. We’ll need him to step up. Those young guys that were redshirts or young redshirt freshmen that spot-played, we feel we have guys that have some talent, they’ve had a really good off-season as far as strength development and good development as far as overall student-athletes, and now it’s time to see what they can do come Saturday.
That’s where not having spring ball as far as actually being out on the field is a little bit of a worry because you don’t know exactly what you have yet. They’re unknown commodities. So with (young players), come fall camp, or however this plays out, whenever we can get them on the field to actually see what they can do, what kind of skill set they have, now we can really start to put the big picture together. When it’s all said and done, Coach (Byron) Hout has done a great job of development in making sure we’ve got guys ready to step into the vacancies from the previous year.
Q: When you look at the production of a player like Bryce Sterk, do you look at replacing one player with another or do you look at doing that with the scheme?
A: It’s definitely a combination of the two. We’re going to have guys that are going to be able to (accept a larger role), Amandre Williams, for example, is a guy that will have to step up in terms of individual one-on-one go win a battle, because we were able to do that with Bryce, (saying) let’s find him the best one-on-one matchup and go do your thing, go win. Amandre’s got to be that guy for us at this point, and hopefully there are other guys we find up front that can to that, as well, young guys that we know if we put them out there they’ve got a chance to win in a one-on-one situation.
There’s some guys within the linebacker room that can potentially be candidates for that, as well. That’s where you can slide some pieces and move them around and put them in spots to take advantage of that. Daniel Hardy, for example, is a guy who has the tools and the physical capability to be a real problem for offensive tackles and offensive linemen in general, we just have to continue to develop him to that. The other piece, obviously, is schematically we can do different things to put guys in position to win one-on-ones. That is going to be on us as coaches to figure out personnel-wise, No. 1 what can we do and No. 2 schematically what can we change and tweak to take advantage of the people that we have.
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